Editorial: Nassau in danger of census undercount

The Island Now

Last week a federal court blocked a memorandum signed by President Trump seeking to exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted in the 2020 Census, saying such an action would violate the statute governing congressional apportionment.

The week before a federal judge temporarily blocked an administration order to wrap up the census count a month ahead of schedule – despite census officials saying this would result in an inaccurate count.

This followed the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that Trump could not include a citizenship question in the 2020 census that census officials warned would result in an undercount.

Anyone see a pattern out there? There are actually three.

The first is that the Trump administration doesn’t want a complete count in the 2020 census, as the law requires.

The second is that those most likely not to be counted just so happen to be minorities.

And the third is that federal courts have prevented this from happening. Up to now.

The federal court’s ruling on excluding undocumented immigrants is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court. And the temporary halt to the administration’s bid to finalize the count a month early is subject to a court hearing.

For all of the above reasons, we welcome efforts by U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, County Executive Laura Curran and other local leaders last week to get Nassau residents to complete the census before the Sept. 30 deadline.

Failing to do so will have major consequences for Nassau County, among other places, for the next 10 years.

“I cannot stress enough how critical it is that we get a complete and accurate count in the 2020 Census for Long Island,” Rice said. “From hospitals and fire departments to Head Start and the National School Lunch Program, there are countless services and programs that have their funding levels set by Census data. Even just a small undercount will cost Long Island much-needed funding.”


“When it comes to the Census, the stakes have never been higher for Nassau,” added Curran, referencing the impact of COVID-19 on the county.  “Let’s keep pushing to encourage every resident who calls Nassau home to complete the count. This census is about more than just ensuring we finally get our fair share of federal government dollars when we need it most. This year’s census is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for us to directly combat the inequities this crisis has laid bare.”

Both Curran and Rice have a good point.

The population data collected by the Census Bureau is used by the federal government to distribute anywhere between $660 million and $1.5 trillion.

It also determines political representation, both on the federal and local levels. This includes how many electoral votes each state receives and the number of members of Congress. 

In 2010 only 77 percent of Nassau County residents sent back their U.S. Census Bureau questionnaires, leaving an estimated 316,000 people out of the count. That has resulted in a loss of money and services to Nassau County ever since. 

It turns out that Nassau is a difficult place to get an accurate population count.

The U.S. Census Bureau calculates Nassau is the fifth hardest-to-count county in the state — behind Queens, Kings (Brooklyn), Bronx and Suffolk counties — because of its high proportion of typically undercounted groups. They include communities of color, immigrants, young children and renters.

This actually isn’t surprising. Long Island has one of the 10 largest populations of undocumented immigrants from Central and South America, according to an op-ed by Congressmen Tom Suozzi and Peter King that appeared in The New York Times earlier this year.

About 23 percent of Nassau’s population live in “hard-to-count” communities such as Hempstead, Freeport, Uniondale, Lakeview, Elmont, Valley Stream, Long Beach, Glen Cove and Great Neck, according to a Newsday report.

Rice said in a press release that reporting data shows “low participation rates in several local communities, including in communities of color, which are historically undercounted in the Census.”

The resident response rate so far, she said, is only 49 percent in the Village of Hempstead, 53 percent in Elmont and Roosevelt, and 54 percent in Freeport. 

As the coronavirus swept the country this spring, the bureau had to postpone key parts of its population count until August.

The Trump administration said at the time it would extend the deadline for completing the count to Oct. 31 to make up for the delay, and move the date for delivering population totals to the White House to April 2021 from its current Dec. 31 deadline.

But as census outreach prepared to resume in August, the administration reversed course, ordering the count wrapped up by Sept. 30 and the results delivered to the White House by Dec. 31.

Numerous experts, including former Census Bureau directors appointed by presidents of both parties, have warned that the earlier deadlines cannot be met without shortcuts that will lead to a drastically less accurate census. In particular, the census will miss the poor, the young and minority groups.

In other words, the errors will favor a whiter, more Republican-leaning population total for use in reapportionment and redistricting.

The earlier deadlines could also leave these decisions on what to do with the data to a lame-duck Trump administration.

An accurate census count should not be a partisan issue in Nassau County. The funds distributed based on the census go directly to local schools, hospitals, fire departments, infrastructure, and other programs and services. 

But Republican officials other than Rep. Peter King have been strangely quiet about the census – even though the communities cited by Curran and Rice as lagging in the count are located in the Republican-controlled Town of Hempstead.

We would hope that Nassau County Presiding Office Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) and Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald Clavin, among others, will join the Democrats in urging people to complete the census by the end of September to avoid further attempts by the Trump administration to suppress the count.

In the meantime, we urge everyone living in Nassau County to complete the 2020 Census by mail, over the phone by calling 1-844-330-2020, or online at My2020Census.gov.

It’s time Nassau County got its fair share from the federal government.


Share this Article